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Where Have You Gone, Easily Recognized References?
July 12, 2014 9:26 PM   Subscribe

"The Joe DiMaggio line was written right away in the beginning. And I don't know why or where it came from. It seems so strange, like it didn't belong in that song and then, I don't know, it was so interesting to us that we just kept it. So it's one of the most well-known lines that I've ever written." An analysis of Simon and Garfunkel's 1968 hit, "Mrs. Robinson".

First, here's Paul Simon performing the song at the Yankees Stadium (YT) in 1999, honoring Joe DiMaggio the month after his death. A link to the full song is at the end of this post.

Intro
When Paul Simon began writing what would become the 1968 hit "Mrs. Robinson," he intended it to be a song about times past. But then he received a call from movie producer Mike Nichols, who asked Simon for some songs for his 1967 film The Graduate. Simon changed the title and the lyrics to fit the film's antagonist, and the song and the movie became two of the biggest hits of the 1960s.
Lyrics
Quick Thought

Paul Simon later explained that he meant to honor DiMaggio as "an American hero" at a time when "genuine heroes were in short supply."

Deep Thought

Paul Simon may have meant to honor DiMaggio, but he also selected the "Yankee Clipper" because of the number of syllables in his name. Simon's own baseball hero was Mickey Mantle, but this would have forced some awkward phrasing—"where have you gone, Mickey Ma-antle?" Nope, doesn't work.
Meaning
Hide it in a hiding place where no one ever goes.
Put it in your pantry with your cupcakes.
It's a little secret, just the Robinsons' affair.
Most of all you've got to hide it from the kids.

It's not completely clear to which secret the song refers. It could be the fact that Mrs. Robinson is an alcoholic and stuck in an empty marriage. Or maybe the lines refer to the premarital conception of her daughter. Perhaps drugs as well as alcohol are stashed in her pantry. Or maybe she's hiding the birth control pills that allow her to run cougar-wild.

Or perhaps the lines are meant to refer to all of these; alongside Mrs. Robinson's Betty Crocker cupcakes sit all of the secrets and dysfunctions of her generation's world. If Simon intended this more sweeping condemnation, he also made clear that the solution to all of this decadence lay in the past, not the future.
Technique
Musically, "Mrs. Robinson" offers a nice example of how to add a mysterious edge to a campfire song. The chorus ("and here's to you, Mrs. Robinson") is built on standard major chords and strummed on acoustic guitars. The lyrics, at least during the first three trips through the chorus, are positive and filled with cliché phrasing: "and here's to you… Jesus loves you… God bless you… Heaven holds a place for those who pray." Simon even throws in the "woo, woo, woo"s and "hey, hey, hey"s that make for a nice sing-along.
Influences
With careers lasting more than a half-century, Simon and Garfunkel's influences have evolved over time. They have identified the Everly Brothers, Bob Dylan, the Hilltoppers, the Four Aces, the Crewcuts, Little Richard, and Fats Domino as among their earliest influences.
Bonus:

A few more details about this song at Song Facts, most interestingly, the following interpretation:
Simon began writing this as "Mrs. Roosevelt." He changed it to "Mrs. Robinson" for the movie. He may have written this about Eleanor Roosevelt. Some of the lyrics support this such as "We'd like to help you learn to help yourself. Look around you, all you see are sympathetic eyes" and "Going to the candidates debate. Laugh about it, shout about it. When you've got to choose. Every way you look at it, you lose." Roosevelt was a female rights and black rights activist, always helping everyone but herself during the Great Depression. A lot of the time she seemed to have been running the country as much as FDR, but never would have actually won the presidency because she was female.
All Music Guide's write-up by Bill Janovitz.

The New York Times op-ed piece by Paul Simon shortly after DiMaggio's death: "The Silent Superstar".

From The Concert in Central Park (September 19, 1981), Simon & Garfunkel Live at Central Park performance of "Mrs. Robinson" (YT, it's the opening song of the concert).

Previously: Paul Simon; Shmoop
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (69 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite

 
Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

(sometimes, you just hit a moment of brilliance that analysis will never understand. This, I feel, is one of those times. Woo hoo hoo. What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson?)
posted by eriko at 10:04 PM on July 12 [11 favorites]


Whenever people asked Roger Ebert about film reviews he wrote that he later changed his mind about, he always brought up that time he called the music from The Graduate "instantly forgettable".
posted by Mchelly at 10:21 PM on July 12 [17 favorites]


Is it just me or does that "Mrs. Roosevelt" story sound like total bunkum. I think he whipped together something up for the movie between shows and road-drugs under contract and came up with something to say during interviews later.
posted by bleep at 10:28 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


The S&G album "Bookends" is a truly astounding piece of work. There is just such depth happening on that album, even when it seems like there isn't. S&G only ever recorded 5 albums, and their final one may be the one that is most famous (for that Bridge song), but Bookends is the one I come back to over and over and over again.

It's easily their Sgt Pepper moment. Where they stretched far beyond the bounds that anyone expected them to achieve based on previous work.
posted by hippybear at 10:38 PM on July 12 [21 favorites]


I always heard the line as "Heaven holds a place for those who break" which I liked a lot more than pray, it seemed maybe the most human religious sentiment I'd come across. Being corrected was sort of disappointing.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 11:07 PM on July 12 [18 favorites]


It's easily their Sgt Pepper moment. Where they stretched far beyond the bounds that anyone expected them to achieve based on previous work.

Definitely underrated and slept on, in my opinion, as well, like most of their albums. They're way overdue for an orgy of retro-appreciation that for some reason has never arrived.
posted by blucevalo at 11:30 PM on July 12 [7 favorites]


Paul Simon has a knack for a catchy chorus with changing lyrics for a pleasant surprise. "Mrs. Robinson" —> "Joe Dimaggio." "Cecilia" —> "Jubilation."
posted by John Cohen at 11:36 PM on July 12 [5 favorites]


The bit from "The Silent Superstar" article where Paul Simon actually runs into DiMaggio at an Italian joint kills me.

"What I don't understand," he said, "is why you ask where I've gone. I just did a Mr. Coffee commercial, I'm a spokesman for the Bowery Savings Bank..."
posted by ormondsacker at 11:37 PM on July 12 [39 favorites]


Is it just me or does that "Mrs. Roosevelt" story sound like total bunkum. I think he whipped together something up for the movie between shows and road-drugs under contract and came up with something to say during interviews later.
posted by bleep at 10:28 PM on July 12 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]



It doesn't make any sense. I doubt that he even made this claim ( the cited source is "Megan from Rochester, NY) . If it was real, then Simon decided to shift song lyrics celebrating Eleanor Roosevelt to song lyrics from the perspective of mental health workers in an asylum.
posted by Bwithh at 12:02 AM on July 13


Why doesn't it make sense? It was originally a song about celebrating the 1940s and Eleanor died in 1962 which is why the song references death.
posted by I-baLL at 12:10 AM on July 13


All of this just stinks of just-so stories.
posted by bleep at 12:15 AM on July 13


It's probably not controversial to observe that the best songwriting teams were in love with each other in their most productive years [no matter their orientation]. It's seems inevitable that the that the romance fails though.
posted by vapidave at 12:17 AM on July 13


Is it just me or does that "Mrs. Roosevelt" story sound like total bunkum.

Not according to Rolling Stone Magazine:
Mike Nichols was nearly finished with The Graduate when he told Simon and Garfunkel that he'd love to include just one more of their songs, even though the movie was already full of the duo's music. Art casually suggested they show him "Mrs. Robinson," causing Nichols to jump to his feet. "You have a song called 'Mrs. Robinson?'" he asked. "And you didn't tell me?"

Turns out, Paul Simon had written a tune called "Mrs. Roosevelt." It's about Eleanor Roosevelt and the passing of a more innocent era, thus the line, "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?"


posted by rongorongo at 1:05 AM on July 13


This mostly confirms my belief that Simon is a Brill Building hack who somehow managed to convince the world he had profound things to say.
posted by spitbull at 1:50 AM on July 13 [4 favorites]


I cannot give the reasons,
I only sing the tunes,
The sadness of the seasons,
The madness of the moons.
In gorgery and gushness,
And all that's squishified,
My voice has all the lushness,
Of what I can't abide.
And yet it has a beauty,
Most proud and terrible,
Denied to those whose duty,
Is to be cerebral.

(Might have got that slightly wrong)
posted by Segundus at 1:54 AM on July 13


I always imagined the lyrics, suggestive of a much older woman entering an old peoples home, were somehow a reaction to the abject sexism and ageism that Anne Bancroft's character was subjected to in (by) the film.
posted by iotic at 2:29 AM on July 13 [2 favorites]


Segundus, you missed a bit:

I may not be didactic
Or lucid, but I can
Be quite obscure and practic-
ally marzipan
posted by andraste at 3:28 AM on July 13


It's the use of the D chord as a pivot from the key of E to the key of G at the end of the verse that makes the song.
D is first heard as a strangely free and exploratory flat-VII in the verse but then becomes a normalised and completely diatonic V in the chorus.
It feels like drifting between two different worlds, which is kind of the theme of the song in terms of whose 'in' or out according to counterculture etc. Or it finds comfort in being able to 'fit in' at last.
This unpacking of the flat-VII was explored by Lennon first of course and you can hear him work it out in antecedents to this song I think like 'Help!', which is very similar.
posted by colie at 3:52 AM on July 13 [20 favorites]


This mostly confirms my belief that Simon is a Brill Building hack who somehow managed to convince the world he had profound things to say.

you mean like carole king and gerry goffin?
posted by pyramid termite at 4:18 AM on July 13 [12 favorites]


They're way overdue for an orgy of retro-appreciation that for some reason has never arrived.

The summer between my graduating high school and my starting college, I was working as a hired hand on a farm. We spent most of our day driving around in the boss' pickup, in which he had a cassette player. The only cassette we had in the truck was S&G's Greatest Hits. We listened to it endlessly all summer. Oddly, 18-year-old me never got tired of it.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:04 AM on July 13 [2 favorites]


Hack? I dunno, I still listen to "Rhythm of the Saints" on the regular, and it's not a hit by any means. Just beautiful and thoughtful. And I remember him agreeing to meet and talk with Black South African university students when "Graceland" hit it big, and sweating earnestly and not overly defensively through questions about exploitation, appropriation, and lack of depth in the songwriting. Pretty dang thoughtful. (Yeah, he rode it all the way to the bank, but still.)

Also, I've always thought "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?" was a question about where the hero had gone -- the guy who was shilling for Mr. Coffee and had maybe been a terrible husband to Marilyn Monroe was not that hero.

(Simon says the lines were sincere in the '99 piece; luckily, author intention doesn't discount legit interpretation. Right? Right??)
posted by allthinky at 5:07 AM on July 13 [3 favorites]


Every time colie comments on this site, I feel like I learn a new thing about music.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 5:14 AM on July 13 [7 favorites]


In my younger days some folk from the church I went to were listening to a S & G best of and when Mrs Robinson came on one guy pressed skip on the cd player.

He said it was an anti-christian song and that christianity was the thing being hidden in these lyrics.

Hide it in a hiding place where no one ever goes.
Put it in your pantry with your cupcakes.
It's a little secret, just the Robinsons' affair.
Most of all you've got to hide it from the kids.

This was one of the things that made me wonder about the thinking of the people I was hanging around with.
posted by gnuhavenpier at 5:17 AM on July 13 [2 favorites]


I can understand if Paul Simon isn't your cup o' tea. But, a hack? No way. His catalog of lyrics, as a whole, can compete quite readily with any other pop songwriter I can think of.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:33 AM on July 13 [14 favorites]


Just like to point out that my first ever comment here was a reference to this song.
posted by octothorpe at 5:37 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]


You really shouldn't skip Mrs. Robinson.

You should play it backwards.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:42 AM on July 13 [4 favorites]


After all these years of being sort of into film, and I've never seen the Graduate. Well, only the last scene. So I get some of the jokes.

Oh, and I guess "plastics, m'boy!" which has its analogue in c. 1990s tech bubble.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:58 AM on July 13


Every time colie comments on this site

Apart from the fact that I got the key wrong...

:-)

It sounds in Fsharp but maybe they have capos on the second fret. The verse certainly sounds like it was conceived in E.
posted by colie at 6:01 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]


"It's about syllables, Mick. It's about how many beats there are."

This is priceless. In my imagination, this sentence is followed by "so grab some bench, Mick."
posted by Danf at 7:08 AM on July 13


While "coo coo ca-choo" might be a reference to the Beatles, it may also be a reference to the much older song, "I wanna be loved by you," which contains a very similar bit of phrasing, often thought of as sung by Marilyn Monroe, which nicely ties back to the DiMaggio reference. Before that, the song was known as sung by Betty Boop (Helen Kane), a Roosevelt contemporary.


Of course, it would be a lot easier to just ask the artists. Excuse me, I have to go tend to my plate of beans.
posted by Muddler at 7:14 AM on July 13


"coo coo ca-choo" might be a reference to the Beatles

It means that Paul is dead, and interred in Marylin's crypt.
posted by Danf at 7:31 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]


Well, I am an old Deadhead so take this for what it is worth, but I never worried too much about the meaning of their songs as much as the fact that they were, for the most part, catchy tunes. I was at the concert in the park and thought it was a very good show.

To me, songs are about the memories of the time of the song. They evoke a feeling. The era of Mrs. Robinson was a little before my time, but not much. Even though I was entering teenage land at the end of the Vietnam war, I was already feeling nostalgic for a time I hadn't even been old enough to understand, the early 60s of Camelot. Listening to Mrs. Robinson is a link to my parents world when I was born.

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon
going to the candidates debate..
.

That to me, was evocative of my parents generation of liberal upper west side jews in the 60s trying to change the world one bit at a time within some constraints of proper society right before the late 60s exploded with radical change and the rage against the war. Can't you just see Art Garfunkel sitting on that couch wearing his vest with the big curly hair and a cup of coffee talking about getting someone elected to the NYC council from the UWS?

The whole concept of Mrs. Robinson the drunk country club cougar was itself a little radical. Here we were about to explode in chaos and break away from the county club Leave it to Beaver mindset into a world of free love juxtaposed with war. Joe D was a hero to so many. He transended the traditional sports hero. He himself, the silent gentleman, married to a pop icon in Marilyn Monroe, was a contradiction similar to the times. Even as a Yankee fan, the line could be taken literally as what happened to our Yankee heros. Jim Bouton was writing Ball Four at the time and ripping the cover off of the veil of Yankee dignity. Mickey Mantle was a drunk. The team stunk in the mid to late 60s. The lines resonated. Where was my Yankee hero? (He arrived in the form of Thurman Munson!)

Anyway, Mrs. Robinson is a catchy tune and it evokes a time period in my life that I still long for, the innocence of youth.
posted by 724A at 8:02 AM on July 13 [4 favorites]


One more thing, as an old Deadhead, one of my favorite groupings of songs is Going Down the Road Feeling Bad ==> Not Fade Away ==> GDTRFB (circa 1972). I just found this terrific version of Mrs. Robinson==> Not Fade Away ==> Mrs. Robinson performed by S&G. This is a terrific version and worth the listen. Who knew these guys could jam?
posted by 724A at 8:14 AM on July 13 [8 favorites]


The summer between my graduating high school and my starting college, I was working as a hired hand on a farm. We spent most of our day driving around in the boss' pickup, in which he had a cassette player. The only cassette we had in the truck was S&G's Greatest Hits. We listened to it endlessly all summer. Oddly, 18-year-old me never got tired of it.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:04 AM on July 13 [1 favorite +] [!]


Thorzdad, well then you and I have probably had our brains rewired in similar ways because when I was 18, I made a 14-hour road trip in a station wagon with a broken radio but a functioning cassette player and nothing to play in it but the S&G Concert in Central Park.
posted by HotToddy at 8:15 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]


This unpacking of the flat-VII was explored by Lennon first of course

No, not really. It's all over Western swing, Tin Pan Alley, and classic jazz. It's a simple modulation.
posted by spitbull at 8:31 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]


They're way overdue for an orgy of retro-appreciation that for some reason has never arrived.

Seriously, Bookends needs a modern 5.1 mix made from the original master tracks.

It's astounding to me that over the course of 5 albums, S&G created songs which will literally live forever in the public canon, but they aren't more celebrated or reflected upon than they are.
posted by hippybear at 8:45 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]


The flat-VII chord is not used much in pop music before the middle sixties - jazz is a different matter but Tin Pan Alley was also not using it structurally like the Beatles did, for example as a very ear-catching dominant preparation in 'All My Loving'.

In 'Mrs Robinson' it's fair to say that the flat-VII chord at the end of the verse is just a simple modulation because it functions as V of the new key... but the verse has several prominent blue notes that become consonant in the chorus (I think, I don't have a score) and it's that change which I was trying to get at.

Songs that had overtly blues-driven verses but fully major-key choruses (e.g. 'Can't Buy Me Love') or vice versa were surely not common in pop until the Beatles and other mid-60s artists, and I think this song is an interesting example of that mixed approach...
posted by colie at 8:50 AM on July 13 [3 favorites]


It's astounding to me that over the course of 5 albums, S&G created songs which will literally live forever in the public canon, but they aren't more celebrated or reflected upon than they are.

I think everyone that gets into music seriously (whether performing or just being a music nerd) eventually gets into Simon & Garfunkel. Casual radio listeners or people that stick to whatever's new maybe never get the chance, but people that dive way into it and start exploring people's influences and so on always seem to.

(I sound like such a music snob I should just shut up now...)
posted by downtohisturtles at 8:54 AM on July 13 [2 favorites]


The flat-VII chord is not used much in pop music before the middle sixties - jazz is a different matter but Tin Pan Alley was also not using it structurally like the Beatles did, for example as a very ear-catching dominant preparation in 'All My Loving'.

But you said John Lennon did it first in songs like "Help." "All My Loving" was written by Paul McCartney, before "Help."
posted by John Cohen at 9:00 AM on July 13


Also, note the lack of typical rock rhythm set in Mrs. Robinson. What is that? A bongo set and a cymbal? Most of the rhythm track comes from what is being done on the guitar.
posted by hippybear at 9:03 AM on July 13


What's your point John Cohen, the Beatles were head shoulders knees and toes above other pop songwriters in terms of exploring complicated chord structures. S&G were borrowing from them (even as the Beatles were borrowing from early 60s folk groups like the Kingston Trio who were borrowing from tin pan alley).
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:13 AM on July 13


Replace "Borrowing" in my comment with "Re-envisioning".
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:14 AM on July 13


It's instructive to watch the Simon & Garfunkel performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, but watch the whole thing. It exposes what a louse Simon is culturally, as gifted as he is musically. The New York folk scene was kind of a put-on from the beginning, but seeing them dressed up in their black turtlenecks, juxtaposed with Otis Redding, Hendrix, and Janis exposes how far they've missed the cultural wave they were trying to ride. The whole thing was repeated again in the 80s with Simon's Soweto/Los Lobos thing.

I love his musical output, and listen to it often. But Simon's one great gift is his ear. He's got a great voice and a good sense of rhythm. But for every clever turn of phrase, there's four lines of teenage poetry. For every "Mrs. Robinson," a "We've Got a Groovy Thing Goin' On." The Tin Pan Alley comp is perfect. The reason people don't often list S&G as influences is that, as pleasing as their music is, it doesn't offer anything that other folks didn't offer first.
posted by one_bean at 9:15 AM on July 13


Both John and Paul were experimenting with how to use the flat-VII chord in new ways... I think it actually gets its very first outing on 'PS I love you' in 1962.

I was wrong to single out Lennon's use of it in a way, but then again the use of the chord in 'Help!' is more challenging and points more towards the sound of 'rock' than Paul's use of it in 'AML.'

In 'AML' the chord is used to set up a verse-ending V (the flat-VII chord comes on 'remember I'll always be *TRUE'). It's an exciting sound but still quite controlled. But 'Help' uses the flat-VII chord as the cadential gesture itself ('help in *ANY way'), which is more bold, and he goes back to it in the chorus as well ('and I *DO appreciate you being round.', whereas Paul seems a bit scared of it.

I am strictly an amateur without any training so don't take my word for it, and there's many ways to interpret a chord progression, but I think it's true to say that the increasing use of the flat-VII chord is one of the features that musicologists cite as typical of the rise of 'rock' as a style and perhaps someone can help me out here. I can't imagine Mrs Robinson still being discussed here if the whole song had been written in the major key of the chorus.
posted by colie at 9:27 AM on July 13 [3 favorites]


It's astounding to me that over the course of 5 albums, S&G created songs which will literally live forever in the public canon, but they aren't more celebrated or reflected upon than they are.

Paul Simon has very very little sex appeal.
posted by bukvich at 9:42 AM on July 13


Come on I thought all the ladies loved a short balding egomaniac?
posted by colie at 9:43 AM on July 13


re: flat-VII - see Diddley, Bo.

I respect that hell out of musicological analysis, but I also suspect that a lot of the decisions made by these songwriters were more of the savant variety. i remember reading an account of how john and paul wrote "i want to hold your hand" - the lynch pin was the III-major chord ("i think you'll underSTAND", "i want to hold your HAND", etc) - i think they were dealing with limited vocabulary, theory, technical skills, but other-worldly INSTINCTS. and that's what drove a lot of it. they dug what they heard, no more no less. us mortals can try to understand it from a theoretical perspective but i suspect that that's got little to do with its genesis.

sorry if derail.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 10:05 AM on July 13 [4 favorites]


Come on I thought all the ladies loved a short balding egomaniac?

Well, there was Carrie Fisher.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:12 AM on July 13


It's instructive to watch the Simon & Garfunkel performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, but watch the whole thing. It exposes what a louse Simon is culturally, as gifted as he is musically. The New York folk scene was kind of a put-on from the beginning, but seeing them dressed up in their black turtlenecks, juxtaposed with Otis Redding, Hendrix, and Janis exposes how far they've missed the cultural wave they were trying to ride.

and 5 years later the airwaves were full of singer/songwriters, including simon, while the psychedelia that big brother and hendrix had done was pretty much gone

simon wasn't trying to ride the cultural wave you're thinking of - he was one of the originators of the next one
posted by pyramid termite at 10:14 AM on July 13 [2 favorites]


try to understand it from a theoretical perspective but i suspect that that's got little to do with its genesis.

Maybe so, but the theory does help to explain why a song like this has such a novel effect on listeners while a billion songs don't.

The Bo Diddley/Poison Ivy flat-VII is not structural and does not prepare a dominant or a modulation, but i think is more of a tonic embellishment. See also My Generation.
posted by colie at 10:24 AM on July 13


good point re: my generation. also you really got me.

i think the flatVII as dominant device was used a lot in bluegrass and early americana before rock and roll.

just to reiterate - "i respect the hell out of musicological analysis."
posted by fingers_of_fire at 10:31 AM on July 13


Oh dang, this was in the OP
posted by demons in the base at 10:49 AM on July 13


and 5 years later the airwaves were full of singer/songwriters, including simon, while the psychedelia that big brother and hendrix had done was pretty much gone

simon wasn't trying to ride the cultural wave you're thinking of - he was one of the originators of the next one


Right, good point, there's another trend that Simon successfully glommed onto. But while he may have contributed to that era, Simon & Garfunkel did not. Look at Wednesday Morning, 3 AM. There are five original songs on that album. The others are traditional, or covers of songs from the folk revival. Look closely at the album cover: "exciting new sounds in the folk tradition." If Paul Simon wasn't trying to cash in on 60s pop movements, explain "The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine."

Do figures of authority just shoot you down?
Is life within the business world a drag?
Did your boss just mention that you'd better shop around
To find yourself a more productive bag?
Are you worried and distressed?
Can't seem to get no rest?
Put our product to the test.
You'll feel just fine
Now.
Buy a big bright green pleasure machine!

Don't forget that pre-folk revival, they tried to gain traction as "Tom & Jerry" with songs like "Two Teenagers" and "Hey, Schoolgirl."
posted by one_bean at 11:09 AM on July 13


What we might find to be profound is pretty relative and subjective, and there's a lot of Simon's music that I don't care for. But some of his best work, songs like 'America' and 'Hazy Shade of Winter', are fairly insightful views on the nature of alienation. So I'd say, 'Yeah, that's profound enough for me'.
posted by ovvl at 11:20 AM on July 13 [2 favorites]


'The only living boy in new York' is great and very forward looking.
posted by colie at 11:43 AM on July 13 [2 favorites]


What's your point John Cohen,

My point is that the truth is better than truthiness. What's your point?
posted by John Cohen at 11:49 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]


Come on I thought all the ladies loved a short balding egomaniac?
posted by colie at 5:43 PM on July 13


If only.
posted by Decani at 11:52 AM on July 13 [2 favorites]


the Beatles were head shoulders knees and toes above other pop songwriters in terms of exploring complicated chord structures.

Yeah, I know — that's why I was crediting Paul McCartney with writing a great song that does just that! A previous comment had given all the credit to John Lennon.
posted by John Cohen at 11:54 AM on July 13


John Cohen, I do accept that my original Lennon comment had some 'truthiness' about it and regret that, but on the other hand it doesn't make much sense to examine Lennon and McCartney's pre-1965 work to see who 'first used a chord' - firstly because they were basically living with each other 24 hours a day and competing/collaborating constantly on everything; and secondly because the 'use of a chord' isn't that simple.

A chord can appear in a song without being used in a particular function - as I mentioned earlier about 'My Generation'. How our ears begin to assimilate harmonic functions in songs is a moving target. Paul went on holiday just before Revolver was issued, and when he came back and heard the tapes was seriously worried that it was 'all out of tune' (his words) due to this.
posted by colie at 11:59 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]


I know the 'Brill Building hack' thing was a tossed-off insult but I think it deserves some unpacking, because it's a somehow pervasive idea (or at least it used to be) that is kind of ridiculous bullshit, not particularly in reference to Simon but just in general.

I picked it up myself, through the general music press in the early 80's, and all the endless boomer retrospectives that were on TV and stuff back then. The narrative went something like, in the beginning there was Elvis, and real rock music was born. Then Elvis joined the Army, and music languished until the Beatles happened, and then there was Dylan, etc etc.

But meanwhile, radio was a wasteland of manufactured hack music, from the likes of (from the Wiki page above) Lieber and Stoller, Bacharach and David, Goffin and King, Mann and Weill, Doc Pomus and Phil Spector, along with Brill-associated artists like the Ronettes, the Shangri-La's, Ben E. King... so yeah, all those hacks and Motown too, helped us mark time until the Beatles came along and made music 'good' again.

N.B, every single one of those songwriters or teams wrote some absolutely immortal things, songs I could almost guarantee you'd heard if you've heard much music. You should look 'em all up! Anyways...

So the thesis is some rockist crap, and somehow I never quite put it together what all those Spector/Motown/Brill 'hacks' had in common was maybe not so much that they weren't great Symbols like Elvis or Auteurs like the Beatles or Genius Poets like Dylan, but that mostly the singers were Disproportionally Supplied with Melanin. But that's digressin'.

So my point is, is Simon a hack like the abovementioned? Well arguably, sure. Did he write and sing some just amazingly effective, moving, beautiful, evocative, catchy, 'meaningful' songs? Well come on now, of course he did.
posted by hap_hazard at 12:17 PM on July 13 [5 favorites]


oh and re: that Mrs Robinson>NFA - whoa, David Lindley! Also, awesome argument in the yt comments about whether they're using Autotune.
posted by hap_hazard at 12:32 PM on July 13


It's OK that good pop music is simultaneously a hustle by its creators, strangely moving, and open to theoretical analysis.
posted by colie at 12:40 PM on July 13 [4 favorites]


all those hacks and Motown too, helped us mark time until the Beatles came along and made music 'good' again

...with a breakthrough album featuring covers of a Goffin/King Cookies song, a Dixon/Farrell Shirelles song, a David/Dixon/Bacharach Shirelles song, a Medley/Berns Isley Brothers song, and a Scott/Marlow Herb Alpert (ffs) song.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:35 PM on July 13 [5 favorites]


(Their next album featured four Motown numbers, a Chuck Berry song, and a showtune.)
posted by Sys Rq at 1:46 PM on July 13 [2 favorites]


Another reason the pre-Beatles period has been looked down on is that the taste-makers in this era's audience were girls. Rock critics, overwhelmingly male, later took an attitude about the time of girl groups and teen idols. Elijah Wald in his book How the Beatles Destroyed Rock & Roll makes the comparison between the lineups of the T.A.M.I. Show and Woodstock, showing the later 60s as more segregated both on race and gender lines.
posted by in278s at 8:48 PM on July 13 [4 favorites]



This mostly confirms my belief that Simon is a Brill Building hack who somehow managed to convince the world he had profound things to say.


replace hack with genius and I'm right there with you, the Dylan-infused mid-sixties being a time when the best lyrics didn't make easy sense. Maybe it was all the drugs percolating through folks' brains and bloodstreams -- a little vagueness freed things up, inspired imaginations to fill in the blanks. I mean seriously, what's the Sounds of Silence all about?
posted by philip-random at 10:13 PM on July 13


Blues guitarists were pivoting around a flat VII for modulation decades before John Lennon picked up a guitar, man, and yeah, Bo Diddley for one. It's an organic harmonic option on a guitar.

Gershwin for another, see "American in Paris."

Come on, John Lennon didn't pioneer anything to do with harmony in blues based forms.

I'll get some more examples later in the day, but you're just wrong collie.
posted by spitbull at 3:06 AM on July 14


Which is harsh, I mean you're right in that Walter Everett argument about the Beatles popularizing modulation through the flat VII and harmonizing blue notes with chords, no question. The Beatles popularized many things from black music traditions. But the technique is as old as blues itself and definitely was used in earlier pop music. I always thought it was McCartney more than Lennon who had the harmonic inventiveness in the group, but to say they were "first" is an exaggeration that, as usual, writes black musicians out of the history of pop.
posted by spitbull at 3:22 AM on July 14


I mean you're right in that Walter Everett argument about the Beatles popularizing modulation through the flat VII and harmonizing blue notes with chords, no question.

...which is all I was shooting for. It's also the opinion put forward in texts like 'A flood of flat sevenths' by Ger Tillekens and Naphtali Wagner's essay about 'domestication' of blue notes.

We've been here before on Mefi in that some claim that simply taking the notes of the blues scale and building chords on them ('organic harmonic option on a guitar') is all that's at work in the process of bringing the flat-VII into pop. Everett and others argue that this isn't the case, and the integration of the chord in its folky *and* modal *and* blue note-derived is crucial to understanding how these songs work.

As for Lennon, nobody had a stranger and more wild harmonic imagination and his adoption of this chord is more interesting than stuff like 'You really got me.' Lennon wouldn't use flat-VII to I as a solid cadence in 'Hard Day's Night' verse, but he gets up the courage for 'I don't want to spoil the party' a few months later.
posted by colie at 6:13 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


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